Diet soda often gets a bad rap from those who think it's really not much of an improvement over a real-sugar soft drink. One frequent criticism is that diet sodas leave you hungry -- and therefore more likely to pig out on sugary and fatty food and snacks.
But a new study says it's not so.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina studied 318 overweight or obese adults who said they consumed at least 280 calories' worth of drinks each day.
One third of the participants were advised to substitute at least two daily servings of sugary beverages with water. Another third was instructed to substitute diet drinks, including Diet Coke and Diet Lipton Tea.
At the conclusion of the six-month study, water and diet beverage drinkers reduced their average daily calories from what they had been at the start of the study, from between 2,000 and 2,300 calories to 1,500 to 1,800 calories.
At both the three- and six-month points, researchers said people in the two groups were eating a similar amount of total calories, carbohydrates, fat and sugar. Everyone in the study lost weight.
The findings seem to contradict the theory that artificial sweeteners used in diet drinks could disrupt the hormones that are involved in hunger and satiety cues -- making diet soda drinkers feel hungrier than others.
Some have speculated that, because the artificial sweeteners are sweeter than sugar, they might cause regular users to develop what we might call a hyper-sweet tooth, causing them to go in search of more sugary snacks and drinks.
But that's not what the North Carolina study found.
"Our study does not provide evidence to suggest that a short-term consumption of diet beverages, compared with water, increases preferences for sweet foods and beverages," wrote lead researcher Carmen Piernas in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
There are still studies out there that have suggested an increased risk of cancer related to artificial sweeteners, but most researchers say nothing is conclusive on that front.
It's worth mentioning that water is still the best thirst-quencher. It's sugar-free, has no calories and, if it's tap water, it's free.